by Sonia Chopra
Photos by Khushbu Shah
Jill Lindsey is a powerhouse. She's a woman, a Brooklynite, and a designer who dabbles in apparel, shoes, and furniture. But most New Yorkers probably know the name Jill Lindsey from the Fort Greene shop that she opened in 2014. It includes her own product, brands she knows and loves, and a café and wellness center that play host to near-daily events. That in itself a lot for one person to handle, but Lindsey's only just getting started.
She has big plans for her own line (which she hopes to expand into an empire) and anyone who talks to her can see that she's got the business acumen to take over the world, despite a lack of formal training. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in psychology and followed that up with design school in Seattle, but being in the city was all the education she needed.
"Seattle isn't exactly known for the fashion industry, but I got to intern in New York in the summers," she explained during a recent store visit. "So I got to have a nice balance: We'd learn super high-end construction techniques and sewing and pattern-making [in school], and then I'd come here and learn merchandising and actually get to go to stores I was drawn to and excited by."
While fashion is first and foremost for her as a designer, Lindsey's store owner MO is all about community and doing right by up-and-comers. Here, she talks about how she got to where she is today and what's coming next.
Tell me a little about what you do.
I'm a designer by trade. I make all of our things either with artisans — whether they're in Nicaragua or LA or Italy — or here by hand in the store. The actual place is a department store and café that serves wine, beer, coffee, and tea, and our lower level is a wellness center with facials, massage, and reiki. I also curate all of our events. We do crafting, family-focused events, business events, and any kind of community organizational fun things.
What kind of product are you making now?
Everything from shoes to apparel to textiles. I designed the furniture with a furniture company. And the Jill Lindsey product is only going to continue to grow — my goal is to have [future] stores be 75% Jill Lindsey product. This time next year, I also want to have a men's line, and then I want to move into skincare and candles. The more recognition we have as our brand and the more we get our name out there, the more people will know what it is.
How did the Jill Lindsey brand go from an idea to a reality?
I was working full time and in Italy for a yarn show. I was sitting in a wine bar like, "What am I doing with my life? I've got to do more than this." And I just started sketching out this idea of a space.
You knew then that you wanted a storefront?
All I wanted to do was make my own product, so I drew up a plan for a shop and I thought, okay, it also has to have a wine bar. Everyone in Europe is so chill and we're here just running around New York, and I wanted to be able to say, "Okay, calm down, have a glass of wine! Have a coffee!"
So it had to have a café, and it had to have clothing and other things — so it would be like a mini department store. I drew it, and here it is. And because this space has turned into a community center and has wellness, it's kind of like therapy, right? I'm using things that I learned while studying psychology.
So you started your brand first, and then opened a store to sells your product alongside other designers and artisans. Why was it important to include other brands?
Part of why I opened a store is because being a designer is really hard, with minimums to deal with and wholesale orders. I thought that if I could sell our things from one location, I could also help all my other friends who are independent designers grow as part of that business. I thought it would be perfect.
Did you have a hard time finding the right space?
I've been here for a year and a half. I was going to close on a space down the street, but I really wanted this one. I renovated the entire space: me, a contractor and two subcontractors, and all the electricians and plumbers and stuff. My best friend came in from Kansas and helped me do all the electrical stuff. Because I'm self-funded, I didn't have a lot of money to do this. There was no room for disasters at all.
How have you seen Fort Greene change?
There was a time when you didn't walk through the park, certainly not at night. And now, you're there at all hours of the day. Because I've lived in this neighborhood, I know we don't really have that many stores or places to get coffee. There was one tiny wine bar before we opened, so I saw this opportunity. I opened on Myrtle Avenue because it was a step away from the crowds — I thought we could use some love over here.
In the year and a half I've been here, there have been new amazing restaurants and huge retail spaces coming up. The Navy Yard and Center Studios are getting busier every day, and there's Pratt down the street. The foot traffic I've seen has nearly doubled in the past year. It's a great home base, and it'll just continue to get better here.
Is that how people have discovered you, by foot traffic?
It's mostly word-of-mouth. Jill Lindsey is a place you have to seek out, especially for the wellness events since they're downstairs. But now there are repeat clients, and then people come upstairs and have a glass of wine and shop. It took a little time for us to get here, but now I can tweak things in a way so people can experience another level of business that they can't get anywhere.
Are you here every day?
Almost. I'm opening a tiny second location in Los Angeles soon, so I'm there often. I've been so New York-focused with designers, but now I'm getting to meet more artisans and designers in LA, too.
You sell things that you make, you sell things that other people make, you have a café and a wellness center, you do events, and you're planning to expand. How do you balance everything?
You know, I don't even think about it. Because I am here a lot, I can manage all the things and how they work. This is a really dynamic format. We have at least one event a day, and sometimes we have five. It's an opportunity — a lot of the people who host events here are just starting out, so we're working with them right from the beginning, and I rarely say no.
What I love doing is mashing up events. I had a facialist and one of our wine reps come together to do a smaller wine class with four wines, and then you got to make your own facial mask incorporating those elements — how the wine was grown, grapes, plant-based ingredients. Those are my favorite events, when it goes back to community.
You're running this business by yourself, without investors — what are some of the other struggles you've come up against?
Managing funding on a small scale is a very hard thing to do. I don't come from a retail background, so I don't know the flows of business. I didn't even know how busy we were going to be at Christmas — I thought we were all going to be home early on Christmas Eve, and then I was slammed until 8 p.m. I sent everyone home, but I stayed open.
But those are the learnings I'm taking from this. And because the people who work here love and support it so much, they're going to do what it takes to make it amazing. It's really love-focused.
Do you have a five-year plan?
I have a 20-year plan. You start slow, you do what you do best, and then you grow. But I'm driven: I want JL Hotels, JL Cafés, JL Wellness — the ability to diversify is huge. But how this all started? I manifested it. I was like, "This is what I want to do, I know it."
I want hotels, and stores, and cafés, but I want them all to be incorporated with people and making their dreams come true. It's not a traditional business. I'm looking for the right partner to grow.
It sounds like worldwide domination.
I wake up every day excited. I look forward to so many things — my dreams are huge. I feel like I was meant to do this. We have the right staff and the right purpose and the right product, so we can do anything.
Original posting on NYC Racked : http://ny.racked.com/2016/5/11/11617696/jill-lindsey-nyc-brooklyn
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